Holding the Man

 

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First a memoir, then a stage play and now a film, this real-life story of a gay couple in Australia has 

potent popular appeal.

 


Holding the Man

Ryan Corr and Craig Stott 

 

This is a film that knows exactly what it is doing. Neil Armfield, a gay Australian who has directed both for cinema and stage, has fulfilled an ambition in bringing to the screen a book by Timothy Conigrave which was completed in 1994. In it the author looked back on the life he had shared for fifteen years with the late John Caleo, a relationship that had started in their teenage years when they had been pupils in the same school. Over the years the text has become revered by readers so Armfield and Tommy Murphy, who made the adaptation, were aware of the perils in making a film that might not live up to inevitably high expectations. Now that the film is here and can be seen to be a clear example of mainstream cinema with popular appeal, one can say with confidence that the right audience will be entertained, cheered and probably tearful as well.

It would have been possible to treat this material in a different tone suited to arthouse cinema, but Holding the Man is consistent in its chosen approach. It starts by celebrating the determination of  the two boys, Tim keen on acting and John into sport, to stand up and declare their love - and that regardless of disapproval from parents and school authorities characteristic of the times (1976). The portrayal of their defiance being celebratory does not exclude humour and the use of songs on the soundtrack. But then, to prepare us for a different emphasis that is coming, the film jumps forward to 1985 before again taking up the romantic and good-natured narrative with events from 1979. It has, however, been made clear now that the story, applauding the bond between Tim and John  while also acknowledging certain tensions between them on occasion, will lead on to the threat represented by AIDS.

The film’s second half retains the popular tone in the sense that, although there is no longer room for comedy, Armfield doesn’t hesitate to milk Christmas (and Christmas music) for pathos as death draws near. But that does not impugn his sincerity, and he will carry his audience with him aided by the fact that the unfamiliar lead actors, Ryan Corr as Timothy and Craig Stott as John, are so engaging and believable as a couple. Indeed Stott's is the stand-out performance here despite the presence of a strong cast in supporting roles (Kerry Fox, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, et al). My own taste leads me to prefer Stefan Haupt’s The Circle (2014) also a film centred on a real-life gay couple, but Holding the Man presses all the right buttons for its potential audience. Viewers should be advised that they will miss something valuable if they do not remain in their seats until the end of the credits - and I do mean the very end.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Geoffrey Rush, Sarah Snook, Lee Cormie.


Dir Neil Armfield, Pro Kylie De Fresne and others, Screenplay Tommy Murphy from the book by Timothy Conigrave, Ph Germain McMicking, Pro Des Josephine Ford, Ed Dany Cooper, Music Alan John, Costumes Alice Babidge.


Screen Australia/Goalpost Pictures/Snow Republic etc.-Peccadillo Pictures Ltd.
127 mins. Australia. 2015. Rel: 3 June 2016. Cert. 15
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